Samim Faramarz, 28, a reporter with an Afghan news channel, and his cameraperson, Ramiz Ahmadi, 23, were among the first few journalists at the scene of the Islamic State-claimed suicide attack in Kabul on September 5. As they finished the first broadcast about the explosion at a local sports club, Faramarz described the grim situation to his viewers. “I can smell blood here,” he said on live television. A few minutes later, another suicide explosion, at the very location, killed Farmarz and Ahmadi, adding them to the total casualty numbers for the day.
The two young news reporters are are among the dozens of local journalists in Afghanistan who have either been injured or killed in the increasing in the country this year along.While the overall civilian casualties in Afghanistan have increased substantially, casualties among Afghan journalists have also increased by several fold in the last two years. Earlier this year, in April, a similar attack involving a second explosion, a few minutes after the press arrived to cover a suicide attack, killed nine Afghan journalists. The attacker was disguised as a journalist and was carrying explosives in his camera. That apart, at least two other journalists have been assassinated in Khost and Kandahar provinces this year.
This is the fourth time in two years that the TOLOnews channel, the employer of Farmarz and Ahmadi, has lost mediapersons to brutal and targeted attacks. In 2016, seven staff members were killed when a Taliban suicide bomber rammed into their vehicle just outside their studio. “Samim and Ramiz represented what is best in Afghans and Afghanistan. They were young, fearless and thoughtful,” stated Saad Mohseni, the director of MOBY group, which operates TOLOnews.
As security in Afghanistan remains unstable, journalists who often find themselves close to areas of sensitive attacks are becoming increasingly vulnerable. Despite the government’s efforts at peace negotiations with the Taliban, Afghan journalists continue to face threats and attacks from multiple terror groups — including the Islamic State — as well as local powerbrokers and warlords.
“The situation has changed from white to black,” said Afghan journalist Sayed Mustafa Kazemi, who is also on the executive board of the Afghanistan chapter of International Center for Protection & Freedom of Journalists. “Like every other journalist working in Afghanistan, I have personally noticed its effect on both my professional and personal life as the threats escalate day by day. The last decade has been the bloodiest for Afghan media, especially the current year,” he shared.
A crime against humanity: Ghani
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani acknowledged the growing attacks on press and condemned it. “An attack on civilians and media workers of the country is an attack on freedom of speech and a crime against humanity,” he said in a public statement. However, with the increase in targeted attacks, pressure has mounted on the government to take quantitative steps to not only protect media workers, but also investigate crimes against the press community in the country. “Protection of journalists should become a bigger concern for the Afghan government and they can do this by putting more efforts... to find and root out those responsible and to prevent future incidents,” said Mr. Kazemi, further suggesting that the government needs to simultaneously boost its counterterrorism efforts.
However, the recent attacks have left the small but banded press community of Kabul in mourning and uncertainty. “The media in Afghanistan is determined to carry [on with] their mission of covering the news at any cost,” said Mr. Kazemi, adding that such attacks do “hurt and damage” the spirit of local journalists. “But they won’t deter them from their actual mission, which is getting the news out to the world about what is going on in Afghanistan”.
Ruchi Kumar is a freelance journalist based in Kabul.